Last week, the Weekender Herald published a very amusing article entitled “Looking at Life.” The article, written by John Ovenden, lampooned one of the more absurd (and that’s saying something) discussions between the members of the so-called “local progress association.”
The topic of discussion was name changes for the various townships in the Adelaide Hills. What John Ovenden was lampooning was the pretentiousness of these groups and just how out of touch they are with the common people.
The fact that our supposed “social betters” are willing to change the names of townships to suit their own ideological needs is hardly new. Today, only those with an interest in local history would know about Adelaide Hill’s rich German heritage. Anti-German sentiment generated by the First World War (1914 – 1918) caused the authorities to change the names of many German settlements. As a consequence, Blumberg was changed to Birdwood, Grunthal was changed to Verdun, Hahndorf was briefly changed to Ambleside (though it was changed back in 1935), and Germantown Hill was changed to Vimy Ridge (it was later absorbed into Bridgewater with the road being renamed ‘Germantown Hill’).
The same thing appears to be occurring today, albeit for entirely different reasons. The general distaste for Germanness had developed into a general revulsion for all of western culture.
A perfect example of this is the Mount Barker District Council and their attempts to modernise Mount Barker. Given that the population of the township is estimated to reach almost sixty-thousand by 2036, there can be little doubt that this modernisation is largely necessary.
However, one cannot help but worry that this modernisation will be used as an excuse to dismantle much of the town’s heritage. I worry that this modernisation will be used to remove statues and demolish old buildings. There are signs of this happening already. Take, as an example, the statue installed at the top of Gawler Street. Like virtually all modern art, it is a travesty which fails to connect people with their heritage let alone represent anything.
Fortunately, most of the Adelaide Hills has rejected this pernicious call to change. Instead, they have clung onto their traditions and their heritage. When one drives through the Adelaide Hills, one sees old farmhouses, old Churches, and open fields.
This is partially natural and partially deliberate. It is certainly true that the country is always more conservative than the city. On the other hand, however, local heritage has been preserved thanks to the tireless work of numerous local historical societies.
What is more, it is perfectly possible to bring a township into the modern age without destroying its heritage. Hahndorf is a case in point. Australia’s “oldest German settlement” has managed to modernise itself without sacrificing its traditional façade. Furthermore, it has even managed to capitalise on its German character and heritage. Along its main street, one can find boutique stores, small cafes, restaurants, and pubs that one would expect to find in old townships. Yet along that main street one can also find Asian restaurants, tattoo parlours, and other more modern venues.
Why are some local councils so hell-bent on destroying the heritage of the towns they have been elected to govern? Part of the answer can be found in their nature. Local councils, like most bureaucratic bodies, are left-wing by nature. As such, they eschew heritage and tradition. The impetus is on progress not on preserving local heritage.
The Mount Barker Council, for example, has signalled their commitment to so-modern “values” over adherence to tradition and stability. Rather than occupying one of the township’s historical building, the local Council has instead decided to occupy an ugly, multi-storeyed office building.
There is a darker reason, however. There are those who wish to alienate people from their heritage by destroying their cultures and traditions. Among the tactics they employ is the defamation of local and national history, the abolition of holidays such as Christmas and Australia day, and the demolition of old buildings, statues, and other historical sites. They hope that by dismantling a town or nation’s heritage, they can remould society along their ideological lines.
Fortunately, a great deal of work has been done to protect local heritage. Local historical societies, the History Trust, and other similar organisations have worked tirelessly to protect and preserve local history.
It is our culture and our heritage that has made us who we are. We must resist attempts to destroy it. What’s in a name? Everything.